mainland culture. I figured that all this "aloha" and "mahalo" (thank
you) stuff was the equivalent of wearing mouse ears in the Magic
Kingdom -- just some imagineering-style creation that survives only
to put the "theme" in "theme park."
Boy, was I wrong. Not only does Hawaiian culture and tradition
live on, but the once-waning language is even making a comeback, or
so my Frommer's guidebook tells me. But because pretty much everyone
there also speaks English, mainlanders don't exactly get much
opportunity to practice. So I still can't do justice to the avalanche
of e-mails I receive every week about whether "keiki" (child) takes
both a singular and plural verb. But I can enjoy having a fabulous
tan while answering reader e-mails about good-old mainland English.
For example, consider this e-mail from a veteran teacher in the
"In the last few years of teaching I heard something, all the time
that had me asking myself: 'Where did that come from?' If I asked a
student why they did a particular thing wrong they would say: 'Oh
sorry, I did it on accident.' On accident!!!??? I would expect them
to say: 'By accident.' ... Is 'on accident' correct or am I crazy and
have I been wrong all my life by saying 'by accident'? For the first
time in my life I heard a TV news reporter say 'on accident' on TV.
That is why I am writing you an e-mail about this subject."
Dear Veteran Teacher Whose Name I Don't Know:
As a columnist, it is my job to take positions on issues pertinent
to the topic I cover. The position I take is this: The problem with
grammar today is too many self-appointed grammarians taking too many
half-baked positions. They make up rules, declare them to be law,
write them in books that contradict existing books and thereby
alienate and confuse the rest of us to the point that nobody cares
about grammar anymore.
That, in short, is why this columnist refuses to take a position
on "on accident."
If I were to take a position, which I'm not, I'd say that "on
accident" is wrong and "by accident" is right. But, if I were to take